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Giant toxic algae bloom threatens Pacific crab season

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California Fish and Wildlife is testing the water and crabs in the Pacific Ocean because one of the biggest algae blooms on record is causing an alarming rise in acid levels. 

Dungeness crabs are the big flat ones with five sets of legs and a lot of meat. It’s one of the most valuable catches to California fishermen. The industry reeled in close to $60 million last year. Pete Kalvass, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said many fishermen he’s spoken with are hoping to make up for a slow salmon season with crab.

“The prospect of a disruption is not looked upon lightly by the fishermen,” he said. 

Kathi Lefebvrea biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, equates what’s happening in the Pacific, with the bloom of toxic algae, with food poisoning.

“Absolutely more toxin in the food web means more times when seafood is potentially not going to be safe,” she said.

She’s quick to point out that food regulation makes sure the crabs at the fish market or grocery store is safe. When acid levels get too high, crabs can’t be harvested.

Fishermen are just hoping this isn’t the new norm. Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said his organization had never seen a bloom like this in the Pacific.

“You know that’s honestly one of the concerns here, is that perhaps this is kind of a glimpse of what we’re looking at in future years,” he said.

Fishermen along the Pacific coast will know more about acid levels, and their potential catch, this week.

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